The NHS is turning small shops into the “bad guys” as it fights to curb the UK’s obesity crisis, according to convenience store owners.

Retailers have hit out at NHS chief executive Simon Stevens, who said that shops are fuelling the nation’s problem with confectionery and sugary drinks.

In an assault on the country’s diet and health last week, Stevens pointed much of the blame at the retail sector for offering deals on sweet treats and promoting unhealthy items at tills. Retailers in poor and deprived areas, he said, were even more responsible than those in wealthier parts of the country.

Convenience store owners have accused him of unfairly targeting them. “You can’t turn round and blame the retailers all of a sudden. They’re playing catch up now, but it’s all about education,” said Nishi Patel, whose Londis Thamesmead store in south London is next to an NHS hospital.

It seems like we’re the bad guys. I’m flabbergasted.
– Kamal Thaker, Edgware

Sunita Kanji, of Family Shopper, Little Hulton, Manchester, said the high price of healthier items didn’t help. “When money is so tight, a bit of fruit might not fill you up, but you can get two bars of chocolate for £1. Education is key, and it begins at home,” she said.

Kamal Thaker of Stop Shop News in Edgware, north-west London, added: “Does he want us to stop making a living? It seems like we’re the bad guys. I’m flabbergasted.”

Industry leaders also hit out at the claims. James Bielby, chief executive of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, said: “Retailers provide products their customers want, with a range of options to suit different needs. To somehow blame them for the very real issues the NHS deals with is disproportionate.

“We all have a part to play in improving health outcomes, and responsibility does not lie with any one party.”

ACS chief executive James Lowman warned that the Government’s obesity strategy will be a huge policy priority this year, with significant implications for small shops. “We are extremely concerned about restrictions on promotions and on siting in stores, which could disproportionately impact the convenience sector,” he said.

NFRN chief executive Paul Baxter added: “While action is needed to tackle the nation’s obesity crisis, we do not believe that increasing the price of sugary products or drinks in a retail outlet is the way to go about it.”

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